TDW talk with a young Canadian drone pilot who shares with us the origins of his drone photography endeavors and offers an insight into his work and his opinion on Canada’s relationship with drones!
- A self-taught, part-time drone pilot, Calvin Lau provides a bird’s-eye-view of Canada;
- Check out what he thinks of the industry, Canada’s relationship with drones and where he sees its future development;
- From using prop guards to editing tips, read Calvin’s pieces of advice for new drone pilots;
With an increasing number of drone startups and operators, Canada’s relationship with drones only gets better. Canada is surely becoming a hotspot for drones. This is why we wanted to get a personal perspective on the drone ecosystem in Canada from a drone pilot who loves sharing the beauty of the country with the world and promoting the natural and urban wonders via online visual platforms.
Enter Calvin Lau! He is a super polite young man from Canada, just about to turn 29 next month. Calvin lives in Markham but as he says, he is constantly moving and is always around the Toronto area whether that’s downtown, Thornhill, and North York.
This is Calvin – A Government Employee by Day and a Drone Pilot in His Free Time
Calvin works as a government employee. And his free time it’s all about photography. Further, he takes photographs for around five years. Some of his other interests include basketball, music, fashion, as well as, finding cool bars and cafes around the city and also other cities he travels to. He believes this way the whole local experience is much more exciting!
He first learned photography through ordinary cameras, which he still actively uses today. Moreover, drone photography recently entered his life.
“I actually first got into drone photography right at the start of the pandemic,” Calvin reminisces. He thought that everywhere would be really empty and that people wouldn’t go out as much so people wouldn’t network or hang out at the beginning of the pandemic. This was the moment he turned to his drone for a different experience.
He started it off with the following drone shot.
To see how his craft evolved, this is one of his most recent ones and one of those closest to his heart.
Calvin’s Drone Experience
TDW: How did you learn to fly your drone? How can someone become a drone pilot?
C.L.: Self-taught. I honestly just jumped into it and practiced at an empty field near my house. Anyone can become a drone pilot – but to get used to it, you have to keep practicing.
TDW: That’s very encouraging. Which drone kicked things off for you. Are you still using it?
C.L.: I started with the DJI Mavic Air, and I currently fly with the Mavic Air 2.
TDW: Nice, so you’re sticking with DJI for now. What’s the best feature about Mavic Air 2?
C.L.: I love that the Mavic Air 2 has a 48mp option for higher-quality photos. Accessory-wise, I love the extension legs I purchased a little while ago on Etsy. I don’t really like launching from my hand as I have to hold onto the remote controller with one hand and the drone on the other. Furthermore, extension legs really help when it comes to dirtier terrain just to give my drone a little bit of room from the ground.
TDW: Definitely. You mention rough terrains. So, there must be some interesting stories with your drone that you like to share with your friends.
C.L.: Yeah! It happened last year when I went out flying with my friend at a nearby cornfield, and it was getting dark. We were both flying our drones back, and normally when you catch your drone as it’s landing, it hovers above your hand for a few seconds before landing as the sensors are detecting where it’s going to land.
I didn’t realize how fast I was flying my drone back because it was really dark but I essentially sent it full speed back at me in sports mode. And I literally caught it like a boomerang!
My friend’s jaw just dropped and was asking how I did that and to this day I have no idea but I hope it doesn’t happen again (laughs). Would’ve cut up my arm real good.
TDW: Wow, that sounds so dangerous. That’s another great reminder of why we should be super careful when flying. We couldn’t help but notice your Instagram feed. It has plenty of drone shots from urban architecture, nature, and everything in between. How do you choose the subjects of your photos and what does the preparation process look like for you?
C.L.: Using Google Maps in satellite mode is pretty much almost my entire planning process – planning where I want to shoot, what angles are best, what the surrounding environment looks like, basically just a mental guideline for myself.
When you’re flying your drone, you want to be as prepared as possible so that you don’t waste batteries flying around figuring out your angles on the spot – especially for client work.
When it comes to the subjects for my photos, from a location standpoint, it’s just honestly whatever I feel like shooting.
Credits to Calvin Lau
TDW: Spontaneity for the win! You’re an avid traveler and you’ve been to many places worldwide. So, where is your favorite place to take aerial photos from the ones you’ve visited? And which location is on your bucket list?
C.L.: Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to take my drone outside of Canada yet, but my favorite spot, for now, has to be Heart Lake in Ontario. It was quite an adventure there and it was so rewarding.
As for locations, I’ll be in California next month and two spots I’m dying to fly my drone are Lombard Street in San Francisco and Santa Monica in Los Angeles!
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TDW: Awesome! Once you capture the drone photos you like, it’s time for editing, right? What does editing look like for you – is it important?
C.L.: It is – I always like to say knowing how to shoot is about 60% of the process, but editing would definitely be about 40%. You can easily turn an okay photo into an absolute banger of a photo. I know droning itself is a hobby for a lot of drone pilots, but if you’re going to be taking photos and videos too, you might as well expand your skillset and become a great editor as well!
For photos, I mainly use Adobe Lightroom and sometimes Photoshop, mostly to clean photos up. For video, I use Final Cut Pro.
TDW: Do you have some photographers that you admire and look up to?
C.L.: Absolutely. Three I definitely look up to are Boyan Ortse (@boyanoo), 612 (@sixcentdouze), and Alex Stead (@alex_stead). I love their style – clean, bright, and vibrant. Their compositions are also absolutely beautiful.
Knowing how to shoot is about 60% of the process, but editing would definitely be about 40%.
Of Canada’s Relationshp with Drones and the Future of Drones
Credits to Calvin Lau
TDW: What are your general impressions about the drone industry in Canada? How would you describe Canada’s relationship with drones?
C.L.: From a consumer standpoint, I definitely think a lot of people picked up a drone with the introduction of the DJI Mini 2. It’s very affordable, just under the 250g (8.8 ounces) limit, and it’s super compact.
In terms of application, there are many ways drones can be used – from an industrial perspective, I think drones can be especially useful in construction and building large structures like bridges. I believe the DJI Inspire 2 was built just for that. But, I don’t think the drone industry is very big here yet.
TDW: What about the future of drones? In your opinion, what’s next for the drone scene and Canada’s relationship with drones?
C.L.: I think it depends on how regulation goes. I think there’s so much more potential for drones in general, but it all depends on how strict the government is with it. It also goes hand in hand with how we, drone pilots, are being responsible when we fly.
TDW: Speaking of regulation, what do you think about the Canadian drone laws and regulations? Do you believe there’s room for improvement?
C.L.: Now that’s a tough question (laughs). I think the drone laws are a little tight, but I also understand why the laws and regulations are the way they are. Canada’s relationship with drones is a good one.
Safety is first and foremost, and you never want a situation where a drone hits someone and they get seriously hurt.
TDW: Agreed. Let’s discuss the Canadian beauty seen by a drone. Which Canadian locations would you recommend other drone operators to visit and capture shots of?
C.L.: Although I’m obviously around the city a lot more, I love nature and think there’s so much more to shoot out there. I think the West Coast is definitely the best for that.
Anywhere with loads of trees, mountains, and clean roads – that’s the stuff I gravitate towards. The West Coast is pretty much paradise for that kind of content, so if you haven’t visited it, do it!
TDW: Nice! And when you’re traveling, how well do people accept drones in Canada? How do they react when they see a drone?
C.L.: This is also a tough one to answer; I’m a little more conservative when it comes to this. I’ve had three people yell at me for flying my drone. So, I always avoid flying in a crowd of people as I’ve personally had bad experiences with that.
I don’t want to be an instigator of anything nor do I want to upset people. At the end of the day, I just want to fly my drone. That’s why I believe avoiding unnecessary confrontation is crucial.
I always recommend people to just fly from a discreet spot, or somewhere where there are fewer people. Drones are pretty loud near the ground so when you launch, people will definitely notice.
TDW: Great tip! Is it easy to travel to Canada when carrying a drone with you? Is there some equipment you’re particularly fond of when traveling with your drone?
C.L.: To my knowledge, there are no restrictions with drones. However, when you’re getting your bag scanned, you’ll probably get it checked out. It’s happened both times I’ve flown now, but there were no issues overall.
TDW: Drone racing and FPV are quite popular right now. Would you consider doing that?
C.L.: FPV, absolutely. Racing, no – I just don’t have the dedication for that.
TDW: What about NFTs (non-fungible tokens)? A lot of drone pilots are getting in on it with their drone photography. Are you familiar with NFTs and what do you think of drone photos as NFTs?
C.L.: I am familiar with NFTs and definitely support rone photos as NFTs. Aerial photos are more interesting as is, so why not?
Credits to Calvin Lau
TDW: It’s time for some tips. What are some crucial things our readers should know based on the lessons you’ve learned yourself?
C.L.: Just keep practicing and getting a real feel for flying your drone.
Also, remember to use the prop guards if you’re flying around an area where you think your drone might hit things. They’re super underrated and for some reason, a lot of people opt not to use them.
TDW: Definitely! What are your next plans professionally? Do you see drone photography continuing in your future?
C.L.: As I mentioned, I’m a government employee by day. I do, however, also do client work on the side – real estate, engagement, and other niche work.
So, I guess you could say I’m a part-time aerial photographer/videographer, but as a full-time job, right now I can’t say for certain but you never know what the future holds!
Credits to Calvin Lau
With drone pilots like Calvin, we’re optimistic about the future of drones. That is, especially in Canada, which has been known as a country that embraces the use of drones for good.
The Drones World team thanks Cal for his time and the amazing and insightful answers about his drone photography, Canada’s relationship with drones, and his next steps. Find out more about him and his work on his Instagram profile.
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All photos featured in this blog post are owned by Calvin Lau.